BURBANK, Calif. - In a surprise announcement, Walt Disney Co. named talent agent Michael Ovitz, one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, as its president.
Ovitz, 48, chairman of Creative Artists Agency, will also be nominated to Disney's board of directors, Disney said. He will begin his new duties on Oct. 1.
He will be responsible for three operating divisions of the company - Disney's theme parks, movies and consumer products - plus Capital Cities/ABC Inc. when Disney's $19 billion acquisition of the media company is complete.
"We are extremely pleased to have Michael Ovitz join Disney," said Michael Eisner, Disney's chairman and chief executive officer. Eisner is one of Ovitz's closest friends.
Roy Disney, Disney's vice chairman, said: "The addition of Michael Ovitz to Disney management is a great coup for the company. His unique knowledge of entertainment further positions us for the future across the whole range of our combined businesses."
Disney's stock surged after the announcement, climbing $2.75 to $59.25 at midday in New York.
The position of Disney president had been vacant since Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash last year.
Ovitz, 48, has often been mentioned as a potential studio head and was in the running to take over the reins of MCA Inc., which the Canadian beverage company Seagram took control of earlier this year. Those talks collaped in June, however.
As head of CAA - Hollywood's leading talent agency, with more than 1,000 clients - Ovitz played a strategic role in the careers of such Hollywood superstars as Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Barbra Streisand and Sylvester Stallone. Ovitz's credits also include assisting in the negotiation of several major mergers, including Matsushita's acquisition of MCA-Universal and Sony's purchase of Columbia Pictures.
Bloomberg Business News, Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.